My chest felt tight and I couldn’t catch my breath. I alternated between deep, unfulfilling breaths and yawning uncontrollably. For someone in good physical health who exercises regularly, this was out of character. Then it dawned on me.
I was stressed.
Trying to keep a dozen plates spinning in my personal and professional life, I couldn’t seem to keep up. My mind never stopped reeling with my never-ending to-do list, and I just didn’t have enough time to get it all done.
Apparently, I’m not alone. According to these statistics, over 70 percent of Americans regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress. Forty-eight percent say stress negatively affects their professional and personal lives. The top physical symptom reported was fatigue, and the top psychological symptom was irritability or anger. The number one cause of stress in the US? Work. So, the vast majority of us are stressed out, tired, irritable, and overworked.
How did we get here?
Stress is a fascinating aspect of human life. It’s both destructive and motivating. It can sneak up on us and linger for what seems like forever, even never going away for some. Stress affects some far more than others, and we all handle it differently. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age, geography, finances, or race. It permeates all aspects of life and affects our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It ignores the line between work and personal life.
Stress seems inevitable in some form or another. Why?
Why Do We Get Stressed?
We experience stress for countless reasons. Top causes include work, finance, health, relationships, poor nutrition, and media overload. Even considering work stress alone, half a dozen variables factor in, including salary, workload, growth opportunities, conflicting demands, lack of support, and control. With constant demands on our time, energy, and emotions, it feels impossible to turn “off.” Instantly accessible at any moment, we’re always on-call and in-demand. No wonder we’re stressed out.
Is technology to blame? Maybe in part, but technology is not the real root of stress. Sin is.
When we look at Genesis 3, we remember why life is hard. We sinned. Adam and Eve chose independence over dependence on God in the very beginning of the world, leaving all generations to wrestle with learning how to depend on God the way we were designed to. From the moment that we chose independence, God has been calling us back to him. Uncertainties in life are opportunities to depend on God the way he intended us to. It doesn’t mean they’re easy or that they turn out the way we want, but we do have the freedom to let go of our white-knuckled grip on control.
While the Bible doesn’t talk specifically about “stress”, it says plenty about anxiety and worry. Our stress, anxiety, and worry don’t come from God. Instead, scripture reminds us to hand over our anxiety to God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
A biblical response to stress is one that fosters dependence on God.
Coming from someone who sweats the small stuff, I know this is difficult.
The most stressful seasons in my life climax in a moment when I realize I can’t do it all. I am reminded of my human finiteness and fallibility. Instead of losing my breath in anxiety, I should be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief. I can’t do it all, but I don’t have to. I am not enough, but Christ is. If the Creator of the universe loves me enough to die and take away all my ugly sin, then he cares about the pressures of life that bear down on me daily.
Beginning to mediate the stress in our lives requires taking a good look at ourselves. If you count yourself in the 70 percent of stressed out, tired, irritable Americans, take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions:
- What are the primary sources of my stress?
- How often do I pray about the factors in my life causing me stress?
- Do I trust God with my work, finances, health, relationships, and future?
- What effects does my stress have on my loved ones?
Look for future posts where we will examine some practical, biblical responses to stress. In the meantime, consider turning over your stress to God in ways you have never tried before, even if just praying a simple prayer today.